Do We Need Regional Human Rights Institutions in the Asia-Pacific Region?
Korean Journal of International Law, Vol. 56, 2011
41 Pages Posted: 27 Dec 2012
Date Written: 2011
Since the adoption of the Bangkok Declaration in 1993, there have been numerous initiatives to establish regional human rights institutions and charters in the Asia‐Pacific region, but all efforts have been impeded by deep cultural, political, and historical issues. Over the last two decades, human rights scholars have also published a large number of studies exploring the possibilities for creating RHRIs in the Asia‐Pacific region. They, however, have mainly focused on examining the reasons why such regional human rights systems have not emerged in the Asia‐Pacific region and on suggesting ways in which RHRIs in this region can be created, without answering or only slightly discussing the basic question that should be reviewed first: the issue of whether RHRIs are desirable for the Asia‐Pacific region. Answering this question is the main purpose of this paper.
First, it provides four general reasons behind the necessity to establish RHRIs for the protection and promotion of human rights, including the one that RHRIs can serve as an additional highly effective tool for the implementation of international human rights norms though the state itself should still be the main obligor for the protection of human rights. Then, this paper shows why it is desirable to have RHRIs specifically in the Asia‐Pacific region by reviewing the development of international human rights law and the counter‐responses by Asian countries to international human rights norms. This paper, however, does not intent to intervene into the traditional philosophical debates over universalism and relativism. Rather, it focuses on the ways in which the universality of international human rights law has been challenged ever since the adoption of the UDHR with to the goal of articulating why and how countries in the Asia‐Pacific region have responded and interacted within the development of international human rights law. Here, the broad argument of this paper is that the validity of the universality of human rights should come at the very least as the product of a process in which most countries are committed to international human rights law by ratifying major international human rights conventions and treaties. Thus, some kind of intermediate human rights institutions are necessary for the implementation of international human rights law at regional and national levels to meet their social and cultural context because the universality of human rights does not mean uniformed implementation of human rights norms. If individual states cannot and do not want to comply with international human rights norms, the role of RHRIs is important as a medium institution for the internalization and localization of international human rights norms because RHRIs can be a mediator between regional specificity and international standards through their extensive contacts with individual states, civil society, and international institutions. Lastly, this paper briefly reviews existing RHRIs in other regions: Europe, the Americas, and Africa, to show why establishing RHRIs can positively influence the promotion of human rights, in the sense that at least regionally adopted human rights treaties reflect the specific sentiments in the region, and that regional institutions can handle human rights violation cases effectively with a better understanding of the context of a problem. Surely, RHRIs cannot provide a total solution to human rights violations. They, however, have emerged as the result of the frustration with the ineffectiveness of international mechanisms and, at the same time, the hope for a better implementation of international human rights norms. They can work effectively not as a replacement but as a complement to both the international and the national human rights system, because regional human rights mechanisms can reflect regional specificity and its particular needs, and at the same time, monitor individual states’ practices in meeting international standards on human rights. Overall, it is indeed desirable to establish RHRIs in the Asia‐Pacific region.
Keywords: international human rights law, regional human rights law, internalization of human rights
JEL Classification: K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation